Building success from the ground up: the power of preconstruction

Matthew Sargeson is operations director of property services at Seddon

Timely delivery remains a challenge in construction. Industry reports indicate that 85.5 per cent of large-scale construction projects face delays, with more than half exceeding two months. This trend – exacerbated in the post-pandemic, post-Brexit era – raises critical questions about the vital role of preconstruction in ensuring project success.

The root of delays: the underestimation of preconstruction

Preconstruction is not just a phase, it’s the foundation of a project’s lifecycle and success. Issues from preconstruction are about more than just a lack of thorough planning; they are tied to a systemic failure of our industry that begins at the procurement stages of the project.

“Unrealistic project timeframes and squeezed margins directly compromise the health of the project team”

The Construction Playbook prescribes transformational change across the public sector procurement profession, detailing early engagement, long-term programmes of work , ‘win-win contracting arrangements’ and collaboration as key to better outcomes. While this is all sound advice, it does not always ring true to experience. The race to the bottom that we often see in the procurement stages of many projects is rupturing our industry and causing severe delays down the line. There needs to be an understanding across the board that promises of rock-bottom pricing and unrealistic timescales will only lead to an overheads and timebound cost spiral later on in the project delivery.

I believe that the issue lies in the transitory nature of contractor relationships. There is a clear positive correlation tied between preconstruction and timely builds, but these relationships become compromised when contracts are based on unrealistic promises. Each new project brings unfamiliarity and potential for miscommunication. It can be hard to mitigate risks that the project team has never experienced before and transient relationships lack an established shared experience of trial and error.

A proactive approach to preconstruction

Existing familiarity allows project teams to approach a build with increased confidence. This means repeat business plays a fundamental role in project success, allowing assurance to be shared across contractor supply chains, cultivating a tried and tested chain of work.

Comprehensive planning from the outset defines project scope and expectations, laying the groundwork for successful execution. Through thorough planning, we can enhance project predictability and minimise the likelihood of unexpected challenges and therefore delays.

Successful preconstruction planning goes further than simply achieving project completion. The mental health and overall safety of the construction workforce is something we hear about a lot, yet it’s rarely tied to issues around procurement and project planning. Unrealistic project timeframes and squeezed margins directly compromise the health of the project team, often resulting in increased absenteeism, the cutting of corners and unforeseen risks. Only by implementing safe and responsible planning from the early stages of a project, can we create an environment that fosters employee wellbeing.

Reflection and learnings

Not everything falls at the feet of the preconstruction teams. Contractors must adopt a comprehensive approach to taking and implementing learnings from each project. This may involve exploring various methods to find the optimal process. There is certainly success to be found in conducting post-project forensic meetings that enable reflection, feedback and continuous improvement. By systematically breaking down each element of a project, we gain valuable insights and identify the areas in which we need to make improvements.

Changing the industry paradigm

Success in preconstruction is more than just completing projects on time. It embodies our unwavering commitment to transforming the industry paradigm, placing equal importance on building strong relationships and building buildings. It is up to the industry as a whole to set a standard that goes beyond the physical build by fostering a culture of collaboration, encouraging reflection and continuous improvement. These relationships are not just an integral part of project success but are pivotal to creating a collaborative industry environment, promoting healthier workplaces, and contributing positively to our community.

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